Doing the right thing by staff is high on the lockdown list for Hamilton events company ACLX owner Aaron Chesham.
The work has dried up for casual staff, but Chesham has committed to paying his permanent staff the full wage for the month of the lockdown, as they work from home.
That’s despite the events industry being more buffeted than many by the coronavirus pandemic.
“For most businesses who are reasonably stable, like we are, and we’re reasonably well established, I think not paying your people full amount is disingenuous,” he said.
He said and any borrowing to help get them through would be less than it cost to set up the business.
“As business owners, I think there is a bit of responsibility to try and do the right thing by the people who have helped build our businesses.”
That included, apart from the commitment to paying full wages, sending staff home to prepare the afternoon of the announcement.
“I turned around that afternoon and said to the guys, we’re just going to get a beer. So we went and had a beer, and I said ‘don’t come back to work, I don’t want you to waste your 48 hours sitting trying to do work, you need to sort out everything you’re going to need for the next four weeks’.”
As for those weeks of the lockdown, and potentially beyond, his strategy is to use it as an opportunity to create a better business.
“We could just sit it out and do nothing, but that is not the way we operate. How many times have you said, we will get round to that one day. For us today is that day.”
He said the company has been growing fast, and that has seen it get behind on some of our process and planning.
He and the staff hold regular planning meetings, which he says is enabling them to get more cohesive in their processes. “That’s the silver lining at the moment.”
“We have a Tuesday and Friday morning meeting on Meet. We have been under the pump for years so we are using this as an opportunity to write up new policy and processes.
We have been refining some of the documents we use for events. The big project at the moment is we are completing overhauling our Health and Safety systems and documents.
“We already use Trello and Google Docs so not a lot has changed with the way we work because these products are already cloud based and very collaborative. Everyone took a piece of tech home that they wanted to learn more about, and we have a real focus on online training and learning.”
ACLX does a range of events including for large corporates, theatre, product launches, school productions, festivals and private events.
Some clients are cancelling events, more are postponing. That is likely to see a degree of pent-up demand when restrictions lift enough for larger meetings to be held.
“We can see that once the restrictions are reduced things are going to get busy very fast,” Chesham said.
“A lot of our success comes from good planning, but it’s very hard to set solid plans in place when the future has little certainty. We know a lot of people still want to do their event.”
The company had already been building its live streaming capacity, and that is likely to be a major part of the “new normal” in the future.
“Up until the lockdown people were really stepping up and trying to find new ways to adapt and create new normals. We had a fast uptake with our live streaming options but with the lockdown in place I think a lot of businesses are just hoping to get through.”
Chesham said products like Zoom and Meet are great for internal communication and to replace meetings but don’t do a great job of replacing a seminar or keynote speaker. Live streaming to a platform, as offered by ACLX, enables simple but useful tools like picture in picture and complete control of the presentation process, he said.
With some reserves to draw on, as they stopped buying assets, and with the wage subsidy as a “good stop gap”, he thinks the firm can weather three months.
“Three months is a long time, and hopefully things will start coming back. It all depends on how fast things return to normality.”